Lutheran evangelicals: The ELCA understands “evangelical” as emphasizing the gospel or good news of salvation received apart from human works. Based on this, the ELCA values worship forms and confessions of faith of the historic Christian tradition. In German, the term evangelisch corresponds to the English word Protestant.
American evangelicals: In the U.S., the term “evangelical” is often associated with a religious and cultural movement known as “evangelicalism,” which came to prominence in the 19th century and stresses individual conversion, the authority of the Bible, and moral and social reform.
Fundamentalists: The term derives from a series of publications, “The Fundamentals” of 1910 to 1913, that rejected modern, higher criticism of the Bible. It developed in part as a rejection of evolution and issues of industrialization raised in the 19th century. Its preeminent principle is a literal interpretation of the Bible as divinely inspired and totally free of error.
Pentecostals: This group, which shares much theologically with American evangelicals and fundamentalists, differs in that it believes gifts of the Spirit did not end after the New Testament era. Credited with starting in Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century, followers believe the spiritual gifts of faith healing, speaking in tongues and prophecy are still available to Christians.
As the religious landscape continues to change in North America, many voices are seeking the attention of Christians. Mainline churches were the voice of Christianity for most of our U.S. history. Today, the media often views American evangelicals as speaking for Christianity on issues of faith and society.
Who are these people, the American evangelicals? They range from members of megachurches to devotees of TV evangelists to fundamentalists and conservative denominations. Evangelicals are our neighbors, family members and co-workers.
Some questions often posed about them by mainline church members include: "Do we have conversations with evangelicals? How do we differ from evangelicals?"
Before turning to those who are often identified as American evangelicals, it's important to affirm our Lutheran claim that we are evangelical. It's even in our name: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
As Richard Bliese, president of Luther Seminary, St. Paul., Minn., affirms about the term evangelical: "It's our DNA. In our present age, as we all struggle to find our identities, we must never give up the word 'evangelical.' It's ours! Or at least we share it with others. 'Evangelical' is a word that has been used and abused in the popular culture (news organizations regularly confuse evangelical and fundamentalist traditions). Yet, at its core, it bears a message of hope, of good news."
A place to talk, share
If we affirm our evangelical heritage and evangelical focus, how do we as Lutherans relate and participate with those who are identified as American evangelicals?
One of the first places we need to look is our membership and participation in Christian Churches Together. Building on conversations in 2001 and a hope for a more inclusive Christian fellowship, CCT became an organized reality in 2006.
CCT is comprised of five families: evangelical/Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and racial/ethnic. This forum expands fellowship, unity and witness among diverse expressions of the Christian faith. Listed among members of the evangelical/Pentecostal line are the Mennonite Church USA, Sojourners, Evangelicals for Social Action, Christian Reformed Church, Salvation Army, International Pentecostal Holiness Church and others.
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© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers